Thursday, June 24, 2010
The Fire Festivals
The summer solstice, or Midsummer Day, is the great turning-point in the sun’s career, when, after climbing higher and higher day by day in the sky, the luminary stops and thenceforth retraces his steps down the heavenly road. Such a moment could not but be regarded with anxiety by primitive man so soon as he began to observe and ponder the courses of the great lights across the celestial vault; and having still to learn his own powerlessness in face of the vast cyclic changes of nature, he may have fancied that he could help the sun in his seeming decline—could prop his failing steps and rekindle the sinking flame of the red lamp in his feeble hand.
In some such thoughts as these the midsummer festivals of our European peasantry may perhaps have taken their rise. Whatever their origin, they have prevailed all over this quarter of the globe, from Ireland on the west to Russia on the east, and from Norway and Sweden on the north to Spain and Greece on the south. According to a mediæval writer, the three great features of the midsummer celebration were the bonfires, the procession with torches round the fields, and the custom of rolling a wheel. - Sir James Frazer, The Golden Bough
In ancient times, midsummer's day was an occasion to pay homage to water, fire and plants. It was also a time to cleanse one's soul as well as to celebrate the summer solstice. However, over time, this holiday has lost most of its sacral meaning and only its various festive elements remain.
In England, people used to celebrate St. John's Eve by setting great bonfires after sunset. This was known as 'setting the watch' and men, women and children would jump through these bonfires for luck. The streets were lined with lanterns, and people carried cresset lamps set on poles as they went from one bonfire to the next. These wandering, garlanded bands were called a 'marching watch'. Often they were attended by morris dancers, and traditional players dressed as a unicorn, a dragon, and six hobby-horse riders.
In northern countries such as Scandinavia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania the summer solstice is still celebrated on this day. Traditionally, the evening festivities last the entire night, because the Sun does not set at this time in far northern latitudes. During this celebration men wear crowns of oak leaves and women put on wreaths of wild flowers. A bonfire is built, around which the night's activities take place.
In Sweden, flowers are an important aspect of the Midsummer festival. Girls and women weave wreaths of flowers to wear in their hair for the day. Wreaths or bouquets are traditionally made with seven or nine different types of wildflowers. Homes are similarly decorated: a flower wreath may be hung from the ceiling to bring blessing to the house and a pair of young birch branches put at the front door. - Astrology.com
When the Papacy sent its emissaries over Europe, towards the end of the sixth century, to gather in the Pagans into its fold, this festival was found in high favour in many countries. What was to be done with it? Were they to wage war with it? No. This would have been contrary to the famous advice of Pope Gregory I, that, by all means they should meet the Pagans half-way, and so bring them into the Roman Church. The Gregorian policy was carefully observed; and so Midsummer-day, that had been hallowed by Paganism to the worship of Tammuz, was incorporated as a sacred Christian festival in the Roman calendar. The Two Babylons, Alexander Hislop
Masonic history records the beginning of the Grand Lodge of London and Westminster as being organized there on June 24, 1717, by a combined meeting of four local area Lodges. One of Lodges among the original 'Four Old Lodges' met there, assuming the name of the ale-house.
The famous meeting of June 24, 1717 (birthday of St. John the Baptist) was the designated as the Annual Assembly and Feast. Three additional annual meetings were subsequently specified by the original General Regulations; one on Michaelmas (in September), one just after Christmas (December 27 - birthday of St. John the Evangelist), and another on Lady Day (Annunciation Day, March 25). There is no record that these specified meetings actually occurred. - Phoenix Masonry
(The Sovereign Order of the Solar Temple''s) origins date back to the so called "Arginy Renaissance", a mystical experience of June 12, 1952, when French esoteric author Jacques Breyer (1922-1996) and two companions were contacted by secret "Masters of the Temple" and asked to establish a "Templar Renaissance". The "Renaissance" eventually materialized -- after many years of esoteric activity by Breyer and his friends -- into the OSTS, established on June 24, 1966 and incorporated under Monaco law in 1967. Monaco was selected because the Grand Master hand-picked by Breyer for the OSTS was Jean-Louis Marsan (1923-1982), a Monaco socialite and a friend of Prince Ranier III. - CESNUR
A couple interesting footnotes from history:
1374 – A sudden outbreak of St. John's Dance causes people in the streets of Aachen, Germany, to experience hallucinations and begin to jump and twitch uncontrollably until they collapse from exhaustion.
Sounds like the good burghers had a run-in with some ergot. And, surprising no one...
1664 – The colony of New Jersey is founded.